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Obama and Europe

What about a change in the American foreign policy? Interview with Thomas Bauer.

04.07.2008 · Academic World


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"Change" is the slogan of Barack Obamas presidential election campaign. And that is what he stands for. But what about a change in the American foreign policy if Obama should be elected? Many people in Europe and the world hope that with a president Barack Obama, US foreign policy might depart from its "either you're with us or you're against us" stand and that diplomacy and talks could again take the lead in dealing with other nations – even with those who are not estimated as sympathetic to the United States of America.

In order to find out how Obama might structure his foreign policy if he was elected president in November, the European Edition of HIGH POTENTIAL asked Thomas Bauer, M.A., a Research Fellow at the Center for Applied Policy Research (C·A·P) in Munich on the field of Security and Defence Policy, Defence Industry, and Transatlantic Relations, a couple of questions concerning what to expect from a new US-Administration.


What is it that characterises the phenomenon Obama?

Of course, he already personifies the upturn to a new era of American politics just because of his young age for a candidate for the presidency – he is the youngest candidate for the White House after John F. Kennedy ever. In combination with his statement that there was neither a liberal nor a conservative America but only the United States of America, he naturally plays with the Kennedy myth. The accolade by representatives of the Kennedy clan who already promised to support him in the primary elections then followed promptly.

But of course, even in the USA, there is an enormous disappointment of George W. Bush. Never before in American history has a sitting US President been confronted with such bad supporting values in the long run.

Do the European media shape a particularly positive image of Obama because they wish for him to become President?

The image is actually been illustrated more critically in the USA because there, he already had to stand a party-internal contest with Hillary Clinton who was previously regarded as the clear favourite of the Democrats and she had high values of sympathy. Therefore, it is observed in detail here, where Obama gets his support from, what characterises his success and how he finally managed to beat the former First Lady.

What do people expect from Obama in Europe?

The people in Europe expect a different kind of foreign policy for the USA from Obama, away from military dominance and towards more cooperation and negotiation. Here, Barack Obama is regarded as a way out of a European lethargy. The people are not satisfied with politics as such and the way decisions are made and implemented in politics any more. Only rarely have so many critical views been expressed with regard to democracy in general or the social market economy. Many people in Europe wish for a similar jolt, a similar atmosphere of departure in their country.

Will we really have a "better world" under a President Obama? We would like to give you some key words and ask you to make a prognosis on how the USA would politically orient under a President Obama:

 ...Guantanamoand human rights?

In this very sensitive area, Obama already committed himself very early. He does not only want to eliminate the camp in Cuba but also the whole Guantanamo system. The people’s hope that human rights will be granted a more important role in the domestic as well as in the foreign politics of their country again is surely connected to this.

 ...Iraq?

It is and will remain a difficult question: what does a reasonable and acceptable solution look like for Iraq? Until now, no convincing overall concept has been presented yet. Obama as well as McCain follow the same line with regard to the question how long the US forces will be stationed in the Iraq: as long as necessary, as short as possible. A precipitous pulling out of the US forces from Iraq probably might not be expected from a US President Obama. For this, the danger of an open civil war between the individual ethnic groups is just too high. However, I see bigger chances for an integration of Iran and a regional stabilisation approach for Iraq with Obama. Until now, he has shown to be very open for direct discussions with the mullah regime in Tehran which might inlcude negotiations with regard to the country’s nuclear programme, but also the situation in Iraq. McCain by the way steadfastly refuses such discussions.

...environmental protection?

For many Americans and Europeans, Obama embodies the entrance of the USA to a sustainable and honest environmental protection. So he commits himselt to a clear reduction of the emission of greenhouse gas and an improvement of the air and water quality. Moreover, he wants to introduce an emission trade procedure following the European model. At the same time however, he also supports a preservation of the atomic energy for the next years. This aspect could still cause criticism with his supporters. 

 ...domestic politics, economy and the possession of weapons?

Obama mainly champions the social balance in the USA. This includes the introduction of a universal health care programme, the tax relief of the lower and middle income classes as well as the better access to education for children from underpriviledged families. How he wants to finance this ambitioned project has not been explained in detail yet.

With regard to the topic of the possession of weapons, the fact that the National Rifle Association (NRF) classifies Obama as an adversary of the highest category “F” should be convincing enough.

...multi-lateralism

Obama has underlined that he wants to count on multi-lateral solutions in contrast to George W. Bush again and again. What he does understand by this and which consequences this might have for the negotiations in the World Trade Organisation with regard to the subsidies discussion with the Europeans or for the future of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the eastern enlargement of the NATO and the relationship of theUSA to China cannot yet be foreseen. His slogan “Change we can believe in” therefore might have to pass some hard tests in the election campaign against McCain and even more if he finally makes it to the White House.

Which are the weak points in the election campaign of Obama and how will the Republicans try to attack him in the further election campaign?

The vagueness of the programme might be a first point for attacks. The worst one can blame a candidate of the US presidency for is inconstancy and arbitrariness in his decisions. Obama’s statements with regard to multi-lateralism and his readiness for discussions with Iran could be interpreted in this direction. I think, Obama will have to be prepared for real fireworks of different attacks from the Republican camp.

How will Obama have to behave in the dispute with the Republicans in the next months?

First of all, he will have to make sure that the positive mood for his application and the hopes he awakened with the people with his call for a change in the American politics will be carried forward from the pre-election campaign to the actual election campaign for the presidency. Now, Obama has to enusre that his supporters will not be overwhelmed by their fear of their own courage while at the same time, he has to convince the sceptical or undecided voters who have not yet been carried away by the Obama hype of the supremacy of his political approach.

Will Barack Obama be the next President of the United States?

If Obama should not allow himself any howlers in the further course of the election campaign which could give rise to reproaches of indetermination or a lack of patriotism, his chances to move into the White House at the end of the year are most probably very good.

What can students in Europe who also start life and their career under difficult conditions learn from Barack Obama?

The phenomenon Obama proves that personal commitment and the own will are important to realise one’s own ideas even if there are critics. This is almost the classic approach of John F. Kennedy as he presented it in his inauguration speech on January, 20th 1961: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. Translated to today’s time, one can understand this as the request that one has to make personal efforts if one is not satisfied with the situation and wants to initiate a change, and that one should not wait until someone else will clarify the situation. With regard to difficult conditions for education and the career, I think this means that one should not hide behind these difficult conditions and take them as an excuse but that one should understand them as a challenge and motivation for the implementation of one’s own creativity and for determination in thinking and acting.


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